"We are in a trade war and stealing, lying, and cheating on the part of the Chinese are all part of it." That damning indictment comes from US-China Commissioner Dan Slane in my documentary film Death by China, and the casualties of China's undeclared trade war may be found in the unemployment lines of every city and suburb of Illinois.
Indeed, since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and began flooding our markets with illegally subsidized products, America has lost over 50,000 factories, more than 5 million manufacturing jobs, and we now owe over $3 trillion to the world's largest totalitarian nation.
Disturbingly, many of America's best-known corporations fight on China's side. Consider Sears, headquartered in Hoffman Estates. It has offshored a wide range of products to China -- including many tools in its once proudly "Made in America" Craftsman line. This is true even as Sears executives have demanded huge government subsidies to remain in Illinois.
Ironically, many corporations offshoring to China have become casualties themselves. Years ago, Motorola, headquartered in Schaumburg, significantly cut costs by moving considerable production to China. While it was initially successful, eventually Chinese companies pirated Motorola's technologies and then undercut its products on price. The result: A long slide in its stock price, massive layoffs, and a bargain basement acquisition by Google.
Google, too, has been one of China's biggest victims. When the "Don't Be Evil" company protested censorship of its search engine in China, Chinese hackers stole its source code, the Chinese government ran Google out of China, and today China's Internet company Baidu has seized 80 percent of the market.
It's not just trade secrets being lost. Northrop Grumman, with facilities in Rolling Meadows, is a key player in America's national defense -- and a prime target for Chinese hackers. This raises the obvious question: Why should America trade with a country that steals our jobs, intellectual property, and national defense secrets?
Sadly, America's corporations refuse to learn that doing business with China is dangerous. Consider United Airlines -- a crown jewel of the Illinois economy. It offshored the maintenance of its Boeing 777s and 747s to China -- an insanity for two reasons. First, providing China's "reverse engineers" complete access to the most sophisticated civilian technology America has developed will surely accelerate the rate at which China brings to market its own transcontinental jetliners to compete with Boeing -- one of America's largest employers. Second, China is the undisputed counterfeit auto and aircraft parts capital of the world. The obvious danger: United Airlines planes will wind up with bogus parts in mission-critical systems.
Consider that in China's corrupt society, it is virtually impossible to prevent unscrupulous Chinese entrepreneurs from dangerously altering products to save a buck. That's why Chinese mothers travel to Hong Kong and Australia to get baby formula -- which is notorious for being spiked with kidney-busting melamine in China.
For all these reasons, it is critical we look in the mirror as consumers -- and certainly look at the label of every product we buy. If that label says Made in China, please think long and hard about putting it back on the shelf. This is not protectionism; it is self-defense against a rapidly militarizing country that surely does not have our best interests at heart.
Perhaps here, in Illinois, in the heartland of America, the counteroffensive can begin. We can start by taking the advice of Bob Weidner, Chairman of the Metals Service Center Institute headquartered in Schaumburg. To Weidner, we urgently must get back to our manufacturing roots; and the first step is to crack down firmly on China's unfair trade practices. Perhaps Chicago's favorite son in the White House will take Bob Weidner's advice to heart.
Peter Navarro, a professor at University of California-Irvine, is the director of the film "Death By China," which opens Friday at the Muvico theater in Rosemont. He will conduct a Q&A following the 7:45 p.m. screenings on Friday and Saturday night.